Meet the Artist……Jonathan Powell, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?

We got a piano in our house when I was about 6 because it had belonged to my grandfather but he developed arthritis and so didn’t play any more. After that, it was quite hard to get me to stop playing it.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

The music I play and my teachers Sulamita Aronovsky and Denis Matthews, also the pianists listed below I suppose.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Following the conductor Chris Austin when recording Morgan Hayes’ Slippage for piano and ensemble – there are loads of time signature changes, and fortunately he was very clear and patient with me; memorising Albeniz’s Iberia, playing Sorabji’s 7-hour Sequentia cyclica, playing all of Scriabin’s sonatas in one concert (I did that a few times) …

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

Making sure the conductor doesn’t go to fast and gives me plenty of space to shape phrases

Which recordings are you most proud of?

The first ever CD of music by Alexander Goldenweiser who taught my teacher … some pieces called Dainas by Latvian composer Jānis Mediņš, a disc of music by Felix Blumenfeld, and the live recordings from the Husum Festival (proof that I occasionally actually play OK concerts)

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

In the UK I like the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building in Oxford quite a lot. Recently I turned up in Elizavetgrad in central Ukraine to play Szymanowski (he was born very near there) and got to play on a really nice new and big Bechstein (perfect for this music) in an excellent hall … a nice surprise.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Richter, Delarocha, Feinberg (Samuil), Bolet, Sofronitsky, Petri, Yudina, Enescu

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are a few: first concerts in Moscow Conservatoire, Helsinki Opera House, NYC Kaufman, Montpellier Festival Radio France … and the small places like the Neuhaus Museum in Kirovograd, the Čiurlionis House in Druskininkai where the audience sits in the garden, Goldenweiser’s flat in Moscow on Tverskaya where there were a scary number of pianists in the audience … playing Elgar in the Philarmonia in Kyiv.

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?

Often it’s Russian music of the early 20th century – I like listening to orchestral music, especially if I’ve been playing the piano all day long, but have quite broad taste that includes lots of jazz, soul and Brazilian music as well.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?

Be curious, listen hard and stick to your guns.

What are you working on at the moment?

Radulescu 2nd Sonata, Aperghis A Tombeau ouvert, Rachmaninoff 3rd Concerto, Alkan Concerto for solo piano

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

At home with my family

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Walking in the mountains with my wife and son

What do you enjoy doing most?

Cooking for my family, walking and sleeping

Jonathan Powell is a pianist and composer. After studies with Denis Matthews and Sulamita Aronovsky, he established an international career as a soloist, his programmes ranging from standard Classical and Romantic repertoire to contemporary and little-known 20th century works. He has performed widely in Europe, as well as in Russia and the US; he has also appeared on national radio of many countries and recorded about 20 CDs.

Over the last decade, concert work has taken him to New York, the Musica Nova Festival in Helsinki, the Festival Radio France et Montpellier, Festival de Chaillol (Hautes-Alpes France), the Raritäten der Klaviermusik am Schloss vor Husum, the Reggello Festival (Italy), Vredenburg Muziekcentrum in Utrecht, De Toonzaal in ‘S Hertogenbosch, Gigant in Apeldoorn, and concerts in the Conservatoire and Russian Academy of Music in Moscow, and the Sheremetevsky Palace (St Petersburg), in the Altes Rathaus, Vienna (at the invitation of the Joseph Marx Society) and in masterclass and concert tours of Denmark. In the UK, his concerts have taken him to venues ranging from the Royal Festival Hall to university departments and local town halls.

He has recently appeared in many concert halls in Eastern Europe: since October 2010 he has undertook tours in Slovakia, the Czech Republic (including a residency at the Janacek Academy in Brno), Ukraine, Russia and Lithuania, performing repertoire ranging from John Field and Chopin, to contemporary music.

Powell has worked with many of today’s most prominent composers such as Ambrosini, Finnissy and Staud. As well as giving UK premières of pieces by Sciarrino, Feldman and Salonen, he has commissioned many new works.

Powell is a self-taught composer – he has recorded several of his own works for BBC broadcasts and has received performances by the London Sinfonietta, the Arditti Quartet, Valdine Anderson, Sarah Leonard, Darragh Morgan and Nicolas Hodges among others. His articles on many aspects of Russian music appear in the New Grove Dictionary of Music; his articles have been published by International Piano and the Finnish musicological journal Musiikki-lehti. He recently contributed to a book on the pianist-composer Samuil Feinberg, and co-edited the publication Rimsky-Korsakov and his Heritage.